Embrace your shadow & Boost your confidence


I make my living helping people boost their confidence to the maximum level. And I succeed most of the time. (How’s that for confidence?)

There are certain secrets to gaining confidence. The first is that it isn’t as easy as people would have you believe. It would be so nice if there were a magical formula. Like those goopy self-affirmations of Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.” But believe me, it doesn’t work.

True confidence isn’t based on simplistic bromides, it’s based on dealing with the areas in which you’re the opposite of confident: insecure, ashamed, afraid everyone hates you, etc.

It’s also important to realize you’re not alone: everyone is insecure. I know that’s hard to believe when you’re looking at the glossy photo of a beautiful actress or hear the confident, booming voice of an athlete (or self-help guru). But here’s another secret: I treat a lot of rich, famous, successful people and they’re ALL insecure. (Thank God—it keeps me in business!) Seriously, I’ve never met anyone—in my personal or professional life—who isn’t at times filled with self-doubt, insecurity, and even self-hatred. Insecurity is literally hardwired into all human beings.

Why is everyone insecure? We’re all insecure because, as strange as it sounds, there’s a hidden being living inside us—and we’re deeply ashamed of it. Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychiatrist, named this hidden part of us the Shadow. And you can no more get rid of it than you can the outer shadow you cast when you’re in the sunlight.

The Shadow is the sum total of the weakest, most flawed, inferior, even disgusting parts of yourself. It’s everything you don’t want to be, but fear you are. And it doesn’t matter how rich, beautiful, or famous you are, as long as you’re afraid people will see your Shadow (and everyone’s afraid of that), you will be insecure.

OK, so how can I get rid of my Shadow? That’s the problem—you can’t. One actress I treated had acne as a kid; she still thinks of herself as ugly even though she’s beautiful. I treat one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the world who still thinks of himself as stupid because he had dyslexia and flunked out of school as a kid. For these people, their success in the outside world did not affect how they viewed themselves one iota.

What this means is that no matter how much love, validation, success, or money you get from the outside world, it won’t cure you of your insecurities.

There’s only one solution. You must learn to love your Shadow. Think about it: if you could love and accept the part of you you’re most embarrassed of, then you won’t be afraid of anyone else judging it. You and your Shadow will move through the world—shoulder to shoulder—without fear.

Imagine how great that would feel!

The first step in learning to love your Shadow is to visualize it. Try this:

  • Picture yourself standing alone in front of someone (or a group of people) who’s terribly judgmental of you. You wish they liked you, but instead, imagine they can see right through you to everything that’s wrong with you, everything you’re most embarrassed of. They’re down on everything they see.
  • Now, look at yourself through the eyes of this judgmental person or group. What do you see?

You just saw your Shadow. The worse it looked (and the worse you felt about it), the better. Why? Because it’s probably how you really see yourself. And if you can learn to love the worst part of you, you can love all of you. And that’s the definition of self-confidence.

But there’s a catch.

How do you learn to love the part of you you’ve felt bad about your entire life?

It takes time, but the key is to look at your life from the Shadow’s point of view. Trust me, it hasn’t been fun living inside of you. You’ve judged them, verbally abused them, hidden them away whenever you’re in front of other people. If you imagine how your Shadow feels about all this, you can begin to empathize with how they've felt their whole life. And the good news is, in my experience, the Shadow is very forgiving if you approach them with compassion.

Try this for yourself:

  • Conjure up the picture of your Shadow you created in the last exercise. Feel him or her as if he or she were a real presence in front of you.
  • Without collapsing into self-blame, simply acknowledge how you’ve made them feel. Empathize intensely with the Shadow. Become so focused on the connection between the two of you that it drowns out everything else. The two of you become an indivisible team. No one can come between you.

Now you can see how real self-confidence is created. It isn’t by denying or trying to erase the parts of you you’re ashamed of. It’s created by embracing them. When I tell that to some patients, they ask, “But does that mean I should abandon my attempts at self-improvement, like losing weight, or going back to school?” No, of course not. You can (and should), try to better yourself in every way you can. But the truth is, you’ll make progress even faster if you stop hating the parts of you that are flawed and simply empathize with how your self-criticism has made them feel. Remember, no matter how much you improve yourself, you’ll never get rid of your Shadow.


This article first appeared on Quora. It is Barry's answer to the question, "How can one raise his self-confidence to the max?"